I can’t remember what first spiked my interest in visiting Oregon but it has been on my list of places to go for a long time and I’m very glad I finally made it.
A few years back I was showing my good friend Tony and his wife around the Nelson/Marlborough region of New Zealand. He went to college in Oregon and couldn’t stop saying how much it reminded him of there to the point that his wife quoted something his extremely well-travelled father used to say; ‘Be where you are Tony!’. It’s a great travel saying to remind us to stay in the moment and place that we are visiting rather than thinking about someplace (or someone) else. In any case I was interested to find out if I agreed with my friend and in the limited time that I had I wanted to mainly focus on the coast but also see a bit of the interior. And to see if I could be where I was.
I flew from Los Angeles into Eugene just because it was the southernmost airport I could get a direct flight to and enabled me to take a logical inland route south before striking for the coast. So after a depressing visit to a roadside Wal-Mart to stock up on supplies I headed to my motel in Creswell to get my kit organized and be right on I-5 for an early morning start. The motel was basically a cliché of roadside America complete with lots of trucker butt-cleavage and the obligatory grey-bearded bandanna-wearing men on Harleys. What I’m trying to say is that I felt right at home.
As I drove south through fog the next morning I marvelled at how despite 7-months away from the US it felt like I’d never left. I’d managed to hit Target, Best Buy and Wal-Mart within the first 48-hours plus spent several hours driving on Interstates so I could easily have been back in New Mexico going about my old day-to-day life. It was a little underwhelming to say the least and reinforced my decision to stay away from freeways and big box stores as much as possible for the rest of the trip. I have also challenged myself to not visit Starbucks the whole time I’m in the US, but judging by the poor condition of Wi-Fi at most of the motels so far I think I’m going to have to break that promise just to keep this blog updated.
Back to the trip…soon the fog lifted and I was off the Interstate and into some incredibly beautiful country. I took remote roads that meandered up mountains, through forest and farm country. There were beautiful clear rivers and snow-capped mountains plus the odd dairy cow. So yes it was a bit like New Zealand in many ways but for me the vegetation and general feeling of Oregon were different enough that it wasn’t hard for me to remember to be where I was.
After taking an easterly direction deeper into the wilderness for most of the morning I got to Union Creek and realised I was running out of time and gas, so I reluctantly swung southwest to make a run for the coast. The route took me through pretty farming country to Grants Pass then on to Highway 199, also known as the Redwood Highway that crosses into California. This was a stunning drive, mostly through wooded mountains and on very quiet roads that eventually hits the Pacific Coast and Highway 101 just north of Crescent City, California.
I took US101 North, a road that would be home for the next few days as I travelled the Oregon Coast. I have to say this is one of the most stunning and varied coastlines I’ve ever seen. The weather was beautiful and the pacific waves roared in at all kinds of beaches; sandy, stony and rocky. Some beaches were small at the bottom of cliffs, others were huge expanses that stretched as far as the eye could see and a few were beautiful river estuaries. Then there was the amazing dunes, some of which had huge firs growing in them creating perfect yet enormous holes where their branches grew out in the sand.
Most of the drive involves these incredible ocean beaches on one side of you with beautiful forest or farmland on the other. Every now and then you’ll pass through a town, usually small and cute, sometimes a larger and more functional commercial centre. It was refreshingly rare to find yourself crawling in traffic through an anonymous sprawling strip mall town. I’d been looking for a Walgreens (a large pharmacy/convenience store type chain) since I landed in Eugene and had been joking in my head that it was becoming like that Proclaimers song in that I was going to drive 500 miles and then 500 more to find one. Well no word of a lie, it took just over 500 miles before I saw a Walgreens on the side of the road. Whilst that didn’t help me use my rewards card to get discounts on every travellers BFF’s (Pepto-Bismol and Alka-Seltzer) it did make me feel like I’d finally gotten to somewhere new.
I spent 2 nights on the coast before crossing into Washington around noon yesterday. In my next post I’ll talk about my trip through the Evergreen State where I’m currently writing this holed up in a kitsch motel as a freezing cold gale blows outside. Fun times. For now here is my Oregon overview as well as a slide show of my favorite photos.
Best Accommodation Find: Sliver Sands Resort, Rockaway Beach
Something I didn’t know last week: The first time I stopped to gas up my rental car I thought I was being attacked by a hillbilly when this young man in denim dungarees and a backwards baseball cap came rushing at me as I tried to get out the car door. Arrrgggghhhhh. But I lived to find out that you can’t pump your own gas in Oregon. They are progressive when it comes to weed but old school when it comes putting highly flammable materials in your vehicle. Apparently you don’t have to tip but all the attendants I had hung around the car window awkwardly until I gave them a buck so it pays to have a few dollar notes handy.
My biggest regret: Driving north. Seriously this was my biggest regret the whole time. I had originally planned to do this drive from north to south but for reasons I forget I switched it around. What that means is that the ocean is on the opposite side of the road so you have to make left turns into scenic viewpoints. Because the road is often windy and lacking in left turn lanes, doing this in 55 mph zones can be very dangerous. For starters you could be sitting in the road waiting to turn near a corner making it almost impossible for any car coming from behind to avoid you. There is also very little shoulder to pull off and wait for a safe time to turn and you could be driving a while before you find a safe spot for a U-turn. To top that off, Oregon is like many parts of the US when it comes to poor tourist signage. There is generally little or no warning that something worth stopping at is coming up. It hurts to think of how many places I missed because of this. So if you are driving on the west coast then head from north to south.